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The Ilkeston Mechanics’ Institute

Ilkeston Mechanics’ Institute.

At an evening public meeting at the Town Hall in November 1879, attended by over 400 Ilkeston ratepayers and chaired by Matthew Hobson, Herbert Tatham proposed the motion that the Public Libraries Act of 1855 should be adopted by the Local Board. This would allow the Board to set up and manage a public library and help finance it by levying an increase of 1d in the local rates.
This didn’t go down well with large sections of the audience.
“We want better water before books!”

“Let them as want books buy ‘em!”

“You’d make us all pay for a few!”


The alternative was to establish a Mechanics’ Institute at Ilkeston, free of Board control and financed by its members not by Ilkeston ratepayers, “where men of all creeds could meet together on a common basis, and learn that which would make them better members of society and better citizens” (William Wade).

Herbert’s motion was seconded by Edwin Trueman though opposed by Cotmanhay butcher Alexander Sisson and Club Row coalminer William Lee Page. Reluctant to see any increase in local taxes, the ratepayers voted decisively to reject the motion – less than a dozen voting in favour (according to the Pioneer’s calculator).

The issue of a Mechanics’ Institute arose again in October 1880 at another Town Hall meeting, chaired by William Wade, when the virtues of such a society were extolled by local residents and guest speakers. … a place for social interaction and quiet reflection, away from the lures of the nearest public house, providing a means for continuing and improving education, by the establishment of classes and the hearing of lectures, or the cultivation of hobbies.
Herbert Tatham’s contribution to this meeting was to suggest the formation of a debating society in connection with the institution, of benefit to all but perhaps especially to local preachers “who might thereby learn more of the grace and style of polished oratory, and so mitigate the torture which was sometimes experienced in listening to men who had been deprived of opportunity of improving themselves”. And he came back to his desire for a library. A Mechanics’ Institute without one would be like ‘Hamlet’ without the character of the Prince of Denmark. To him the love of books compared to no other ‘amusement’, far better than either gardening or any other hobby that he could think of. (Applause)
No women were in the audience of this meeting although Mechanics’ Institutes were open to both sexes.

At this time there was one reading room in Station Road, opened in September 1878, a meeting place of the Church Institute — until 1882 called the Church Mutual Improvement Society — staunchly Conservative in politics.

By the end of 1880 a Mechanics Institute had been established in the town.
To raise funds for this, a rather novel experience for Ilkeston was suggested and enacted in December … an exhibition of the works of the Ilkeston Art Class, supplemented by a collection of curiosities, and opened by Colonel and the Hon. Mrs. Newdigate of West Hallam Hall.
“Present at the opening ceremony was General Newdigate whose name will be remembered in connection with the Zulu campaign”.

As well as the works of the art class students and their master, Joseph Tyrer of Mansfield, the art  collections of Messrs. Herbert and William Tatham, William Hewitt, William Sudbury, William Wade, Benjamin Wilson, Abbott Thurman, etc. were ‘raided’ to supplement the display.
The Woolliscroft and Raynes families supplied several pieces of their own work.
A portrait of ‘Giant’ Sisson was the focus of much attention. ‘Giant’ was the 22 stone Cotmanhay collier Thomas Sisson, born about 1781, married to Sarah (nee Smith) in 1805, died 1847, aged 66.
The curiosities included ‘antique’ china, ancient coins and an old £1 note, the hand of a mummy and pieces of rock from the Holy Land (supplied by Dr. Armstrong), oak taken from Bunyon’s house at Elstow, stuffed birds, ancient books, a copy of the Derby Mercury of 1824, a great variety of moths (courtesy of Charles Woolliscroft and others), and numerous items of war memorabilia.
Refreshments and musical interludes were also provided.

In July 1881 the Institute’s first railway excursion was a day out to Buxton, enjoyed by over 400 persons.

The Institution’s first public lecture, in November 1881, was heard in the South Street schoolroom, when Frank Curzon, Secretary of the Yorkshire Union of Mechanics’ Institutes, informed and amused his audience on “Our Faces and how we came by them”.

At this time the curate-in-charge at the Parish Church, Dr. Greenfield, made it clear that the Church Mutual Improvement Society and the non-sectarian Mechanics’ Institution were not two opposing institutions but occupied perfectly distinct spheres of usefulness.
However, to others, it was clear that the newly-formed Institution was not non-sectarian and was certainly not non-political — why else did it give most of its advertisements to the new Radical newspaper which had just opened in Ilkeston?
That newspaper had begun on July 9th 1881 and was the Ilkeston Advertiser and Erewash Valley Weekly News, Liberal in politics and nonconformist in religion.

Town football

In September 1882 the Ilkeston Advertiser announced the formation of Ilkeston’s ‘first football club’ under the auspices of the Mechanics’ Institute.
There was a call for recruits ‘from the local lovers of this exhilarating winter pastime’.
The club’s first fixture was away, on Saturday, October 28th, when the team ran out to face the Langley Mill Temperance FC, also playing their first game.
I’m not sure what formation had been adopted, as the Advertiser listed the following team…. C. Yorke in goal, J. Tilson back, F. Spencer and T. Riley at half-back, B. Howard and W. Roe right wing, J. H. Wood and S. Statham left wing, F. Paling and W. Shakspeare as twin centre forwards. (Yes, ten listed players) Fred Paling was on top form and most of the Institute’s five goals were down to his efforts. The Temperance FC managed one goal in reply.
In the club’s second fixture — away to Ironville Excelsior FC — Fred was again having a good game until approaching half time, instead of running into the penalty area, the fearless striker inadvertently ran into the adjacent River Erewash (not realising how close it was!!)
After being rescued he was escorted to a nearby house and to a change of clothing…. and sat out the rest of the game.
This time the ‘Mechanics’ seem to have played an orthodox formation of goal, two full backs, three half back and five forwards…. and both sides supplied an officiating umpire.
The score was 3-1 to the home side.

Fred’s early excursion into the Erewash river may seem bizarre and far-fetched but bear in mind that the game was played in late afternoon in early November on a thawing ground in poor condition after a frost. I remember a game I played for Chaucer Junior School on the Ashes at the bottom of Gordon Street/Rupert Street when I almost ended in the Erewash Canal.

By March 1884 ‘Rambler’ in the Ilkeston Pioneer could note that ‘the increase now taken in the game of football is something marvellous, and there is every prospect that it will increase still further’ though the sensitive writer did have complaints to record.
‘The language used when a goal is disputed is occasionally more forcible than polite, and it not infrequently happens that a game ends in what is termed a ‘raffle’. A defeat usually means that the vanquished will either lodge an objection against the result, or they will persuade some biased reporter to attempt the task of explaining away the hateful victory’.
How the game has progressed!!

We now have a choice of two beerhouses to sup at.